INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When Villanova needed more out of Darrun Hilliard than usual Saturday, the senior guard thrived.
He knocked down 3-pointers, got the ball to open teammates and rallied the Wildcats.
Then, with the outcome in jeopardy, Hilliard took matters into his own hands, making an open 3-pointer from the left wing with 1.5 seconds left to give No. 6 Villanova a thrilling 68-65 victory over No. 18 Butler.
“They were taking all of our cuts away and we really had to play off of Darrun’s decisions and JayVaughn (Pinkston’s) decisions,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Fortunately, we have a couple of seniors that can do that. But it’s not just all the shots Darrun made. … We played through him.”
Hilliard delivered the best game of his college career.
He finished with 31 points and eight 3s to set career highs. His nine field goals matched his previous career best, set in December, and his eight rebounds were one short of a career high. He also played solid defense and, when it mattered most, Hilliard made the shot his team needed most.
“I guess I played very good,” he said, trying to convince himself after Wright dished out the first compliment. “Obviously there are some improvements I can make. Offensively, I was getting open looks and my teammates did a good job of getting me the ball, setting screens. They did the hard work.'”
Now, Villanova (23-2, 10-2 Big East), winners of six straight and 10 of 11, can focus on taking care of the rest.
The Wildcats pulled off a second straight season sweep over Butler and lead the second-place Bulldogs (18-7, 8-4) by two games in the conference title chase.
Only one other Villanova player reached double figures: Pinkston had 12 points.
Hilliard did enough damage by himself, though, especially after catching Butler in a defensive switch on Villanova’s last possession. That split-second of confusion was all Hilliard needed to free himself for the winning basket.
Butler could have forced overtime after Roosevelt Jones took the inbounds pass from Austin Etherington and zipped it to Kelan Martin, who also was open on the left wing. But his shot was off the mark.
“It was executed perfectly, except the shot didn’t go in,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “We felt they were going to hug Kellen (Dunham) and Alex (Barlow), so we got the ball where we wanted it to go.”
Dunham and Barlow each finished with 19 points, but after turning a 27-22 halftime deficit into a 44-39 lead with 13:37 to play, neither could help the Bulldogs pull away.
Instead, Hilliard rallied the Wildcats, who answered with five straight points to tie it. Hilliard followed that with back-to-back 3s to give Villanova a 50-48 lead and the Wildcats didn’t trail again until Barlow’s 3 with 2:43 left made it 63-62.
Hilliard didn’t fret. With 1:24 left, he launched himself into Barlow, drawing a foul. Hilliard made all three free throws to give Villanova the lead.
Jones tied the score on an acrobatic layup with 17.3 seconds left, but Hilliard hit his 3 and Martin did not.
“We practice that every day,” Hilliard said. “That happened earlier in the year and I missed it. It just so happened this time, it went down.”
Villanova: The Wildcats are in complete control of the conference title chase. The season sweep gives Villanova essentially a 2 1/2-game lead over Butler. Georgetown and Providence are the next closest to Villanova, but each has five conference losses.
Butler: The Bulldogs may have lost more than a game, too. Starting forward Andrew Chrabascz left with a right hand injury with 15:33 left in the second half, then returned and finished the game. Holtmann told reporters that Chrabascz was in pain after the game and would have X-rays on the hand. Holtmann was still awaiting word from the team doctor about the extent of the injury.
Villanova hosts Seton Hall on Monday.
Butler visits Creighton on Monday.
Butler began the day with a 12-1 record at home and a 4-2 mark against Top 25 teams. But against Villanova, the Bulldogs have had no luck. A year ago, they lost in overtime at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs are now 0-6 all-time against Villanova.
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